Thursday, 23 May 2013


Today is a sad day - 23 May 2013 - a year since my beautiful mother was taken from us. But she will live on forever in our hearts and in the halls of Hanworth House, which is being restored in her honour.

This post is a tribute to Mamma HH - someone everyone loved and who touched your life from the moment you met her. Maybe Mary Weinholt felt the same way 100 years ago when she bought Hanworth House in honour of her mother.

This is the story of my mother.

Romana Gabrielli's story began in 1938 in Pula, Italy. These were formative years of great hardship, war, little food, no money and maybe then, little hope. A young family was displaced from its tenuous and insecure first home, searching freedom and a better life by passaging through several United Nations refugee camps, simultaneously glued by a great will to stay together as a family.

A long voyage, stark of comfort, brought this young family to Australia- we remember her story of the first time she saw a banana as she travelled via Africa, longing for a taste, yet no one had any money to buy one. Arriving in Australia in 1950 with her brother and parents, accompanied by a few possessions in ragged cardboard suitcases, bewildered by expectation and hope.  Yet she immediately set to the task of making good a new life, and that she certainly did.

Educated at St Stephens’ School in Brisbane, she shone with merit in many fields. Her talent in art even gained the eye of future iconic artist Margaret Olley, who offered her tutorage, but circumstances prevented her from following this opportunity at the time.

My favourite glass and oil painting by mum

Through her adolescence and early adulthood, Romana continued to take great care of her wonderful mother (my still bike-riding, lawn mowing 98 year old Nonna) who remains full of life and completely and uniquely irreplaceable. On so many occasions, she spent long afternoons and evenings working with her mother at the National hotel in Queen St, gladly and selflessly helping her mother with her work. In fact both mother (and later her mother in law) were very significant to her.

Romana could have been anything she wanted:  she was smart, logical, industrious, convincing, and, sometimes downright conniving. She was stubborn too! Her abilities and people skills gained her employment easily, including the Queensland Catering Company,  Electric Power Transmission and the Italian consulate in Brisbane (where she was constantly dismayed by the antics of the diplomats!)

Romana was quite the 1950s glamour girl though she would  have been horrified to have been described as such - behold these gorgeous shots :
Getting ready to go to Cloudland in 1950s

Coolangatta Beach

Romana married John Preston in 1960, and surely remains on the short list for the most beautiful and radiant bride there ever was or will be, She made her own dress and that of her bridesmaids and it was evident her creative streak was continuing into dressmaking.


Reception at the Bellevue Hotel August 1960

Was it coincidence (or fate?) that the 3 landmarks (National Hotel, Bellevue Hotel and Cloudland) - all demolished landmarks in Brisbane were each mentioned in the article written about Hanworth House after the fire

And you can see evidence of these three places in the photos and stories above. What does this mean?

I came along a few years later - being quite the cutest baby that ever lived (maybe a little biased!)
Here are both of us revelling in the opportunity to be a mum. Motherhood was Romana's most masterful talent. My brother followed a year after I did.

Not content with art and dressmaking, Romana made another mark as an extremely talented cook early on, winning the 1967 national White Wings Womens Weekly Bake Off Competition and gaining national acclaim.

Just look at those hairstyles - Mad Men would be so proud!   For a short time, she even hosted a television cooking show in Brisbane, which could have led to a highly successful career, but her love and care of two young children took precedence at that time, and she never looked back

Mamma HH  became an incredible dressmaker, winning the praise and admiration of many, and a  host of prizes and awards for her designs and outfits.  
I remember us clapping and cheering so loudly at Twin Towns in the late 1980’s when she  won the supreme award as Dressmaker of the Year, one of many accolades she so well deserved. 
Mamma HH filled our house, with art and handicrafts of varied style and presence, which dance with vibrant colours of her past, present and future. What she could not make simply did not exist!
My father was a police sergeant in the Queensland Police force (incidentally Hanworth House was built the same year the Qld Police Force was established) and was transferred to Cooloongatta in the early 1970s, moving the family of 4 soon after to Banora Point.
Mamma HH nurtured a wonderful warm home, where countless special memories were created and harboured. She gained employment as a legal then school secretary at Banora Point Primary School where she remained for over 25 years.

Then, well past her 60s, when most of her peers were contemplating retirement, Mamma HH decided  a career in real estate was the way to go, simultaneously helping my brother build his business whilst carving out a reputation for honesty and genuine care unequalled in this community. She continued to work full time until she died in her early 70s.

Grandchildren came, first Miss HH and then much later grandsons whom Mamma HH loved and nurtured since their births. They will further ensure her breaths continue to inhabit our world.

And, almost 9 months after she died, a beautiful baby girl again, a constant reminder of new life - Niece HH who would have thrilled and fascinated Mamma HH to no end

My mother was the most beautiful person ever - selfless, kindhearted, hardworking, generous and loving . And did I say stubborn? She taught me lessons one can never learn in books – she never shaped my future only supported my choices.

My wedding preparation was nothing short of unfathomable. She made hundreds and hundreds of roses to adorn the church

But she also handpainted every cake box and hymn book, crocheted (when she had never crocheted before!) every bomboniere, and made the bridal dress, 4 bridesmaid dresses, her outfit and that of her mother and even all the lingerie and shoes when we could find none which would measure up to her high and exacting standards.

Mamma HH was the perfect embodiment of what a daughter, sister, wife, grandmother and mother should be.  If you met her once you could never let her go.  

On the night before her celebration of life, my schoolfriend and I cut every rose from those hundreds she made for my wedding to give to those who attended her funeral.

It was little wonder we had none left on that day.  How lucky was I to have her in my blessed life?

Hanworth House deserves to be restored, despite any obstacle placed in our way. Ovarian cancer tried to keep her down - but she fought it bravely and decisively until she could no more.  She would tell me not to let a fire at Hanworth keep me down - and it won't so long as I use her as my guiding light. Hanworth House is of the stature that only a home which is a Grand Lady and a mother who is a Grand Lady can attest. Bringing them together is my privilege.

x HH
Forever rest in peace, my darling Mamma HH
        9/11/1938 - 23/5/2012

To watch the video of Romana - A Beautiful Life click here


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your wonderful Mum.
    You must miss her terribly.
    What a rich life she led - inspirational.

    1. I do miss her terribly. The first anniversary everyone says is a pretty low point. It was! And yes, inspirational she sure was!

  2. This is such a beautiful tribute. It is clear that the character and depth of spirit in Mamma HH has been passed on to you HH. Today you turn a corner and today I am inspired to get up, go out there and get on with it! Thank you for your generous sharing. x

    1. Oh so pleased I gave you some get up and go. I should have felt the same way but felt a bit flat today. Probably because I stayed up so late and wrote the post! But feel better for having done so. Hope your day was fabulous. xHH

  3. Dear M,
    What a beautiful and deeply heartfelt tribute to your extraordinary mother.
    What a wonderful and fruitful life she lived. Such an inspiration of what a 'can do' attitude can bring to ones life.
    Having lost my own beloved and 'can do' mother many years ago in my 20's I loved reading about the special bond you shared with your mother over the years.
    I have no doubt her love and inspiration will guide you.
    Kate Bx

    1. Hi Kate B, I can't even imagine losing a parent in your 20s. I know you must feel the same bond. You only wish you had been so much more aware of that gift each day you had together. Thanks for writing x HH

  4. I lost my mother too last year - my heart goes out to you on a difficult anniversary. Certainly you've been thrown some difficult curveballs by life in the past year, but your lessons from your Mother, who sounds like an amazingly positive and industrious person will carry you through. xx

    1. Oh Heidi, 2012 was an awful year for both of us. Let's hope better days lie ahead for both of us! xHH

  5. That was so beautiful - what a wonderful woman. You've brought a tear to my eye. The bond and love between a mother and daughter is so special.x

    1. Sure is EAP. I feel the same bond with my daughter, but don't think I am anywhere near the calibre of the one who went before me. But I can live in hope, right? x HH

  6. I loved reading this post and looking at the pictures of your family. A wonderful story of a rich and joyous life.

    She would be very proud of her family.

    Thank you for sharing with us.


    1. No Sue thanks for reading and for sharing your comments. They mean a lot, especially today. x HH

  7. Oh my goodness!
    What an emotional post!
    What an amazing life!!!!!!!!!
    You've been blessed with a wonderful guide through life.
    Love the pics,Mamma HH looked like a Movie Star!
    Lucky you,what a blessing!
    Now I know where you get your drive,motivation&inspiration to oversee HH...all so very clear now!
    Have a beautiful weekend with your family. X A

    1. Thanks A, your comments were just the perfect tonic for me today. She does look like a movie star. I love the one of her on her wedding day getting out of the car. I was lucky. You have a wonderful weekend too. x HH

  8. What a fantastic post and such a beautiful tribute to your Mother, the warmth and love in your writing is so lovely. I lost my Mum to ovarian cancer as well, she was in her early 70's and so full of life.

    1. Georgie, thank you for sharing. What a terrible sickness it is - and it seems to take the best. Did you see the story on 60 Minutes last night? I feel so sorry for what that young woman was ovarian is going through, especially with a son. I was so sad. I hope you saw some of your mum in this post too x HH

  9. A beautiful tribute to a beautiful woman, both inside and out.
    Judy xx

  10. Gorgeous tribute to an inspirational woman! I bet she was an amazing cook, too. Have you been to Pula to see where it all began? I have been to nearby Chia on holidays. Lovely, peaceful place. I remember the wild fennel growing by the roadside.
    How wonderful that your nonna is still alive and well!!

  11. Thanks for your comment Anon. Yes she was an incredible cook - just seemed to intuitively know what to do! I went to Pula last year after she died just to see where she was born. It was just beautiful. Breathtaking! I cannot wait to go back so I will check on Chia. My nonna can't fathom the fact I love it there. Her memories of it are not that happy I guess. Thanks for sharing x HH